Unlike front yards, backyards are private spaces that can be used in many ways. A perennial garden, a playground for the kids or a quiet place to reflect. A backyard can be whatever you want it to be, but magic only appears when the ordinary becomes the extraordinary.
So, I went on the Magical Gardens of Leaside tour and it was magic that I was looking for.
My first stop was at the home of Karen Keay, who transformed her backyard into a private resort. In centre stage, a large freeform swimming pool sparkled in the morning sun, but there were many stars, including the attached hot tub, lounging area and an upper deck for dining. All of this hardscape was beautifully softened by the lush mixed perennial border that follows the organic shape of the pool. I wasn’t the only one who found this to be fresh and alive; the birds and bumble bees seemed to think so too!
Barry and Jacqui Dixon are two masters of illusion who transformed a good size yard into something that appears enormous. By making use of the adjoining ravine, they transformed a once boring garden of weeds and hostas into what looks like a botanical garden. These dedicated collectors know how to display a wide range of plants with both skill and artistry to create a masterpiece. A topiary knot garden with a centre path is the main focal point, but there are so many strong features throughout the wide curving beds, including a life-size elk sculpture that looks to be heading back to the dark and mysterious forest behind.
If you know the movie School of Rock, you’ll understand why I call Eric Hayward’s garden School of Plants. This garden is fun and appears to be all about the kids with the swing set, sandbox and a big red train car, but it’s so much more than that. As a plant collector, Eric has created a truly beautiful teaching garden, exposing his kids to as many plants as possible (many from his own journeys) with hopes they experience joy to learn and build memories on. I had a childhood memory myself when I saw the raspberry bushes there.
20 years ago, John and Lorraine Green redesigned the layout of their garden to appeal to children of all ages and that’s exactly what it is. A waterfall welcomes you and slows down your pace to view the full, diverse and beautifully maintained garden beds. With each step there’s a whimsical surprise of bunnies or ducks peeking out of the shrubs. When I spotted the perfectly placed vegetable patch, it brought back memories of when I was a child in my mother’s and grandmother’s gardens.
With four more gardens to view and after hours of walking in the scorching sun, I decided to make my last garden visit with the Brophy family.
They took a cue from the existing 65-year-old black walnut to transform their space into something very different. Rather than fight that tree, they honoured it by creating a bed of compatible plants around it and turned the remaining garden into a stone patio. This made a smaller yard spacious and capable of many activities. For me, it was the visual serenity of this space along with the shade of that big tree that made me so relaxed and comfortable.
The five gardens I viewed were as different as the owners who created them; the only common thread was that they were all very magical. Is yours?
Here’s to magical gardens everywhere!